St. John's gets set for the marquee matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats with disheartening news. Steve Lavin is stepping back from his in-game coaching duties while he regains his stamina after prostate cancer surgery.
The team is 4-3 on the season, with a 7-man roster after a trio of recruits were deemed ineligible. Lavin has missed two St. John's games games since the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, and missed the first game of the season as well.
Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap has handled the in-game coaching duties in Lavin's stead, with the head coach observing and taking notes at home. The Red Storm is 2-1 in Lavin's absence.
Lavin announced his decision to step back from in-game activity for an indeterminate period via ESPN's Andy Katz, and the coach gave an interview with WFAN's Mike Francesa this afternoon.
Lavin's doctors recognize that he should have recuperated for a longer period after his surgical procedure. Responding to the competitive desire to get on the court and the urge to coach his talented recruiting class proved to be too much for the recovering Lavin.
"You don't know until you jump back on the horse that you came back too soon," Lavin told WFAN's Francesa this afternoon.
Lavin is still working at practice, recruiting (he traveled to see former commit JaKarr Sampson, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA before the season started), and working on fundraising for the program.
"Attending practice to take notes and share thoughts with the team isn't taxing, sitting in the stands at a high school game or practice to evaluate a prospect isn't taxing," Lavin said to ESPN. "Going to dinner with a donor isn't taxing. At this stage of my recuperation it's the game coaching that presents the biggest challenge."
Lavin found out about the prostate cancer last season, but did not publicize his diagnosis. He and his doctors agreed on a "wait and see" observation period, but responded with surgery when his Gleason score increased from 3+3 to 3+4 (read more about Gleason scores/ prostate cancer evaluation, more info here).
Coach Lavin had successful surgery in October at Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer Center. He has been working with Dr. Peter Scardino to monitor his recovery from the procedure.
"I was hoping with each subsequent game that my stamina would improve but instead it regressed," Lavin told ESPN.com. "It became clear that presently I have not recovered enough from surgery to lead the team through the toil of a game. After consulting with Dr. Scardino we decided to modify my coaching duties."
There is no timetable for Lavin's return. "I've got to avoid putting any dates on the calendar," the coach told WFAN. "The healing process is what will determine my return date."
The Red Storm will embark on two true road games at Kentucky and Detroit in the coming week, and then concentrate on studies until December 17th's Holiday Festival against the Fordham Rams.
Mike Dunlap received some deserved appreciation from ESPN's Jason King for his ability to keep the Red Storm squad sharp on the court. He, along with assistants Rico Hines, Tony Chiles, Gene Keady, and Moe Hicks, will continue to train the Johnnies until Steve Lavin's energy levels allow him to return to the bench on a full-time basis.